To achieve long- term sobriety it is necessary to understand and be skillful at addiction relapse prevention. There are many ideas about relapse. There are also neurological studies regarding the activation of centers in the brain relative to relapse (see Dr. Judson Brewer). For many people in recovery, using the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous as form of relapse prevention is highly effective.
In early recovery we are told that in order to avoid relapse we have to go to ninety meetings in ninety days. Or we have to change the company we keep. Some of us are told we need medication to deal with the anxiety that accompanies early sobriety. We also hear that it is necessary to get a sponsor; suit-up, show-up, and shut-up; and take the cotton out of our ears and put it in our mouths. It may be that there is some wisdom in these edicts however what most of us need are practical skills for relapse prevention.
The necessary skills to avoid relapse are knowledge, action, and service. All three aspects can be realized by using the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous to prevent addiction relapse. Let’s drill down on the specific characteristics of each skill.
The skill of knowledge in relapse prevention includes knowing important information about the disease of alcoholism and drug addiction and an understanding of what the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous calls the “inner workings of the mind.”
The important information about the disease of addiction is that our bodies are different than the non-addict. Once we put the substance in our bodies, we have to have the next one and the next one and so on. Most normal drinkers start to feel the buzz and what do they do? They stop drinking. Alcoholics start to feel the buzz and have to have more. One is one too many and one more is never enough. Accepting that our reaction to the substance is that we require more is important to considering how to prevent relapse. This is described in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous as an “allergy” in the chapter titled The Doctors Opinion. The bottom line is that if I do not take the first drink or drug, I will not need the next one.
Understanding that our very own minds are not well equipped with relapse prevention techniques is essential. In fact, my own thinking works against me and leads me right back to the horror and misery of that first drink or drug. After a brief period of abstinence, my mind will eventually tell me that I can drink or drug again in safety. That somehow this time will be different. I tell myself this, and I believe me. Then I act accordingly. The knowledge that I will one day convince myself that it is ok to use is critically important for preventing a slip. Additionally, once I put that drink or drug in my body – Game On! I am totally obsessed with getting the next one – at all costs. The Big Book refers to these mental twists as an “obsession of the mind.” This is a phenomenon that occurs when I am totally fixated on when the next time is that I will be able to use, where I put it, who knows that I have it, and on and on. The obsession of the mind is a crippling loop that creates blinders for knowing and acting upon the truth and it prevents us from living clean and sober.
Using the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous to prevent addiction relapse means that action must be taken. This is where steps four through twelve come in. These are the action steps. Of course steps one through three are just as important and build a critical foundation to do the steps that follow. However, the focus of this blog is on the actions necessary to prevent relapse. Using the Big Book of AA we begin the action steps with step four. This is about cleaning out the psyche of all anger, hurt, and resentment. It begins with writing down in detail everything that is bothering me including my part in it. This is a deliberate process in which more is revealed as each phase of step four unfolds. It requires intentional action to sit down and write, write, write. Then in step five we share that inventory with someone we trust. That person unearths a little more truth that perhaps we did not see in our inventory. Step six and seven are only a paragraph each. These are known as the God steps because it is more prayer than power that will relieve us of those patterns of behavior and character habits that create and fire the cycle of suffering. The action involved in steps eight and nine involve making a list of those people we have harmed then going out to make it right. Often that means sitting across the table and making a direct amends. Not an apology. Rather an expression of a change of heart and a deep willingness to heal the wrong. It is authentic and from the heart; not a simple action to just check off that it was done and not a cerebral activity done from the thinking mind. This is an action from the heart’s deep well of compassion and empathy. Steps ten, eleven, and twelve are known as the maintenance step. After step nine, the Big Book promises we will “know a new freedom and a new happiness.” This freedom and happiness comes from the change in motives, attitudes, and ideas I once had are now replaced by what I have learned and experienced in steps four through nine. How do I maintain this new spiritual footing? Steps ten and eleven have specific practices to keep me rooted in my new found freedom and happiness. These include doing a daily review of my thoughts and behaviors and “keeping my side of the street clean.” I pay attention to how I am being toward others and myself. When the old habits and patterns pop-up, which they will, I quickly do a correction and immediately get back on my spiritual beam.
Step twelve is all about service. Isn’t that actually where all spiritual paths lead? Being of maximum service to those who still suffer. This is a universal destination for freedom from the suffering rooted in the human condition. Rather than a step that gets done this is actually a way of life. Being of service to others is the best defense against the next drink or drug. There are so many ways to be of service that it is literally impossible to list them all. My sick neighbor may need a meal. The suffering alcoholic in the meeting needs a solution to be free from the ravages of addiction. I can help. Maybe I can give a ride, volunteer at the local soup kitchen, or let in an annoying and impatient driver without malicious or hard feelings. A simple smile or holding a door for someone can be great acts of service. What is the emotional wake I leave in my path? How do others feel after an encounter with me? With the intention, reflection, and action of service, relapse is held at bay for another day.
Using the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous to prevent addiction relapse is a tried and true effort. Many have traveled this path successfully. The skills described above, when practiced – not perfected – daily, will result in happily living clean and sober. Now that is effort that is well worth it!
Addiction Relapse Prevention, Addiction Relapse Help, Addiction Relapse, Addiction Relapse Support